Fine dining

Watching too many cookery shows while doing the ironing has left me thinking about cookery and cuisine.
In principle, all cuisine is the same: available foodstuffs, prepared in whatever way makes them as palatable as possible. At the harshest end of this are foods like Drammach: the Scots name for a mixture of milled oats and cold water. Such a meal speaks of privation, even danger – no fuel, or no safe place to make a fire (because then you could make porridge), no flavourings; just crushed dried grains made into a paste, so you can get them down without choking. The fact that there is a even a name for this concoction gives a sense of grim subsistence in lean times, and the most ardent supporter of fashionable ‘primitive’ diets wouldn’t want to stick to it for long.
At the other end of the spectrum are millennia of the luxe confections of the rich: larks’ tongues in aspic, four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie, lobster and caviar in hand-carved ice grottos. The emperors’ banquets have their modern equivalent in the shrines of gastronomy: plates smeared, dabbed and powdered with crumbs of costly ingredients, spiced and sweetened, fatted and bejeweled, every suggestion of skin, scale or shell tweezered away by brigades of chefs. Food for people who aren’t hungry, the main course always the glossy reflection of the diner’s self-importance.
In between these two extremes are the rest of us, eating whatever best suits our budgets and supplies, our preferences and customs, whatever we have time to provide and the kids will eat without too much protest.
In the modern world, huge juggernauts of policy, supply chains and marketing are deployed to steer our choices in the interests of others, but the best meals are always going to be the ones made from fresh ingredients, by people who know what you like to eat. Not because it’s healthier, or costs less, or is better for the environment (although those are all important goals), but because of the immense tangle of human connections behind the question ‘what shall we have for dinner?’

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